When an artist releases a new record, it is typically a time for celebration. In the case of Halifax rocker Matt Mays and last year’s excellent full-length album Coyote, this should have been especially true. The album marked the first new music from Mays in four years, however a pair of rather big bumps in the road were coming Mays' way.
First, he was faced with the demise of a long-term relationship. After more than five years together, Mays and his fiancée mutually parted ways.
And then, as Mays and his group toured Canada this past March, they would be dealt an immeasurable loss when Mays guitarist and close friend Jay Smith unexpectedly passed away in Edmonton while on tour.
To say that the last year of Mays' life has been difficult would be the understatement of the year.
“Jay’s passing was an absolute shocker,” he said. “I think that each of us in the band is dealing with it in our own way; we’re all coming down pretty hard now. The fundraising shows are over with so we really have no choice but to deal with it, move forward and realize that he is not coming back.”
The fundraising shows that Mays refers to were a pair of shows set up in Halifax and Smith’s hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia in the week following Smith’s unexpected passing. In a virtually unprecedented display of the closely-knit Atlantic Canadian music scene coming together, more than $150,000 had been placed into a trust fund for Smith’s two young children.
Mays shares that the group received a significant amount of criticism for their decision to continue playing their scheduled shows after Smith’s tragic passing. Mays says their decision wasn't motivated by anything other than an innate need to work through their sorrow in the only way they knew how: music.
“We were asked how we could possibly play shows after Jay died,” Mays says. “But the musicians that I perform with in my band play music because it is what we feel that we are supposed to do. There was no way that we would have not played those shows. Music is our outlet and that was how we were going to help deal with Jay’s passing. I don’t know if I would want to play in a band who wouldn’t want to have played at such a pivotal time.”
Although the process of grieving Smith’s passing will not subside for quite some time, Mays says that he and his band mates are able to take some consolation knowing just how much Jay meant to so many different people.
“It took a long time for all of us in the band to find one another and ultimately make music together. There is so much good to remember about the time that we got to spend with Jay. It is definitely heartening to know Jay was so loved by so many people. Though it might be hard to appreciate sometimes, there can be some good that comes from something bad. Since Jay’s passing, I think a lot of people are looking at life differently. There is a lot of underlying beauty that comes with life and it’s a choice to put energy towards that.”
After wrapping up their Canadian tour and mourning Smith’s passing, Mays and his group were back on the road. This time, however, they were touring the United States, supporting acclaimed rock band The Gaslight Anthem on nine different shows. Mays says the tour proved to be therapeutic for the group while also affording them the opportunity to turn heads south of the border.
“The Gaslight Anthem tour couldn’t have happened at a better time. We had a lot of driving time where we had the opportunity to think about Jay. We would then we arrive at sound check and then have the chance to perform in front of anywhere from two to three thousand people a night. It was the best of both worlds for us.”
Matt Mays plays Halifax on Saturday, June 8 as part of Red Bull's Hometown Tour series, which has previously staged free shows with New Pornographers in Vancouver and Tokyo Police Club in Toronto.